While the hospital struggled from its inception to adequately fill its role in mental health treatment, it stands today as a modern institution illustrating the broader American shift toward effective care of the mentally ill.
On 6 February 1880, a resolution was passed in the Utah Territorial Legislature forming a committee to consider the necessity of an asylum. The next day a bill was introduced to build such an institution and fund it thereafter. The bill was passed on 20 February 1880. The Territorial Insane Asylum was officially opened in Provo on 15 July 1885. It was placed several blocks away from the city’s population, separated by marshland and the city dump. Before its construction individual counties and private institutions were responsible for the care of the “insane.”
The dedication of the asylum was a widely publicized and rather grand affair. Not only were reduced railroad rates offered to those attending the event, music, refreshments, and a grand ball for the inmates were planned. At first, it was deemed a credit to Utah, well worth the time and money expended to finally free the territory of the self-inflicted “abuses” it had endured due to the lack of such an institution. The asylum was originally conceived as a place for individuals to be rehabilitated and returned to public life. However, the training and resources were insufficient and the institution soon became a human warehouse with terrible conditions.
A shift in attitudes toward the institution was signaled in 1903 when it was officially renamed the State Mental Hospital. Later in 1927, it was again renamed the Utah State Hospital in a further attempt to remove stigma. These name changes did little to help the lack of resources and overcrowding which reached a peak when in the 1940s. The 1,100 patients outnumbered their 700-bed capacity. In 1942 Dr. Owen P. Heninger became superintendent, instituting reforms and programs which improved the quality of life for patients and enabled staff to more effectively administer to the needs of the populace. In 1969 state care shifted from hospitalized treatment to more local centers and programs, lessening the load on the hospital and ensuring maximum attention to those still requiring institutionalization. Today the hospital is a modern hospital providing excellent care according to the many advances in mental health treatment made over several decades.